Never Take Advice From A Gargoyle


The dark forces driving mania also drive depression, indeed, mania and depression are like twins separated at birth and raised by different families. The more you understand them the more you are struck by similarities, not differences.

I have written much more about mania than I have about depression, but depression has consumed a far greater portion of my life. The death of my mother, which occurred when I was a grad student, triggered a long down cycle during which being and nothingness seemed almost indistinguishable from one another – it felt as if all color had been drained from the world.

During this bleak season I went on a European vacation with my brother. At one point we joined forces with a Dutch cousin and toodled through France in a borrowed car. Like good tourists we visited Paris and paid homage to the obligatory icons. Climbing the tower at Notre Dame I had an inspired idea for an ad – Gargoyle with Listerine. After huffing, puffing, and trudging round and round rickety wooden stairs we at last reached the roof and walked into bright sunlight.

Paris lay spread out at our feet like a pornographic postcard featuring men in masks and black socks held in place with garters. Standing at the edge, no railing to protect us, we gazed at the broad cobblestone square far below; remote and yet close enough so that we were able to make out individual faces. It was a lush summer day but I went dizzy and cold, sweat grew on my forehead. Abruptly I backed away; the nausea decreased.

It was nothing so simple as fear of heights, or even the proximity of death. The terror was this. If, for just one instant, my inner, irrational mind had taken control it might have moved one foot just far enough to pitch me headfirst into midnight. The faith I had in my mind’s reliability – to always act in my best interests – was incomplete. Some part of me knew this was dangerous territory.

Later, in mania, I would learn how right I was. Because, dear reader, this is precisely what happens in mania – involuntary, irrational behavior, fabulously self-destructive behavior. If there is a suicidal component to your personality, one second of losing your grip on it can be enough to lose everything.

Published by Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.